A Brief Look at the History of the Stratosphere

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With the AVP XVII Meet and Tournament coming up this weekend, LasVegasMichael thought it would be fitting to discuss the Stratosphere's long history in Las Vegas, including its popular poker room.

This Saturday is the long awaited next AVP Meet and Tournament. Officially titled AVP XVII, this is the 17th official AVP meet and the first one EVER held at the Stratosphere. It is rather fitting that the Stratosphere is holding our next world famous meet. They have graciously hosted our AVP Weekly Showdown tournaments and provide the most popular low buy in NLHE tournament in the city, with complimentary food served at the 7PM tournament break. Today’s article will discuss this unique poker room, and how it picked up significant steam a while back and became a true contender in the small room market. The property itself carries with it a unique Vegas history, harkening back to the Old Vegas days, and the transition to modern times. It is the only Strip casino that is actually in the City of Las Vegas, a quite unique distinction. Let’s grab a nice cocktail and learn a little bit more about the Stratosphere Resort and Casino and how this gem reinvented its poker room a little while back and established itself as a go-to room for a value priced NLHE tournament with great prize pools.

Stretching back many years ago, the Stratosphere opened on the grounds that were once occupied by Vegas World, a small casino hotel that was owned and operated by legendary hustler and Vegas businessman Bob Stupak. Stupak was also a poker player that understood the poker business and always kept a running poker room in his casino. Vegas World was best known for unique games in the pit like Crapless Craps and Double Exposure Blackjack (whereupon the dealer’s hole cards are exposed to the players). These games added unique fun to the pit experience and benefitted the casino with their higher than average (but well concealed) house edge. Stupak was an innovator and thought outside of the box when it came to special travel junkets and promotions. He was one of the first to offer all inclusive packages to tourists, which often included multiple night stays, food, and even travel. He wanted his customers to stay within his resort and never leave, and he attempted to offer these types of packages to entice people to do just that.

Stupak was from Old Vegas. He had lofty ideas and unique viewpoints when it came to Las Vegas and how it can shine. When it came time to tear down Vegas World, he recruited investors to build a tower that would be seen all across the Vegas Valley and attract people to his resort more so than any other property on the Strip. Aside from the tower, he wanted a large casino and hotel that would still offer his unique games and pit variations to all players. Also included, of course, would be a poker room. As a WSOP bracelet winner, he understood and believed in poker and how it can benefit the casino and its players. During the Stratosphere’s construction, unfortunately, some investment deals fell through and Stupak had to sell his large stake in the company. Though he stayed on as Director of the property for a while, he would not be the majority shareholder shortly after the grand opening. The Resort opened in 1996 with much fanfare. The tower was a large draw and thousands came out for the newest resort opening. Due to the extremely high construction costs, the Stratosphere, under the direction of Stupak, fell into bankruptcy shortly after opening and ownership was transferred to an equity firm operated by known billionaire investor Carl Icahn.

During all this time, the poker room at the Stratosphere gained popularity through the late 1990’s. Offering great stud and Hold’em games to all players, the Stratosphere also hosted very low buy in tournaments, some as low as $20 to bring people in and get them to play. Around 1999, the Strat followed the lead of many other poker rooms on the Strip and closed down their card room. Poker was not gaining popularity at the time, and many poker rooms were closed down. This closure didn’t last though. After the poker boom hit in 2003, the Stratosphere reopened its poker room in the Sports Book area and once again offered value tournaments and great low buy in cash games. This was the first reincarnation of the Strat poker room, and over time, the room worked to establish itself in the market, feeling significant competitive pressure from the Sahara, located closeby. The Sahara poker room was the oldest continuously operating poker room in the city, and had a very loyal and dedicated customer base with an extremely popular deepstacked NLHE tournament for a low buy in of only $45. Though many rooms attempted to replicate the success of the Sahara with their tournament structure that appealed to the locals and tourists, none seemed to be able to shake that competitive advantage.

Everything changed for the Stratosphere when the Sahara announced that it would be closing its hotel and casino permanently in May of 2011. Prior to the closure, the Stratophere had relocated and expanded its poker room toward the rear of the casino, adjacent to a party pit and restaurant, near the entrance to the famous tower. Though the Stratosphere offered great games and some value tournaments, it was still competing strongly with the Sahara that seemed to have a stronghold on the value minded tournament market. During the preparations for the closure of the Sahara, the poker room manager negotiated to take over the Stratosphere poker room upon Sahara’s demise. He also negotiated to bring over several displaced Sahara dealers across the street. In the weeks leading up to the permanent closure, the staff talked up the Stratosphere as the viable replacement for the great tournament that the Sahara players had all become accustomed to. Of course, as part of this, the Stratosphere agreed to continue to feed players during the 7PM tournament break, just as the Sahara had done. Thee Strat mirrored the structure, buy in, and times of the old Sahara schedule, and over time, the players indeed came out and supported the porting of the Sahara’s long term schedule and staff across the street to the Stratosphere.

Now, over a year later, the Stratosphere has updated and improved the tournament payouts and structures. Players are still given a free pizza dinner during the 7PM tournament break, and the tournament times continue to reflect the old Sahara schedule. The Strat expanded their poker room again after the Sahara closure to better accommodate the players and due to great demand. In an effort to continue to stay around the clock and competitive, the room has reached out to great websites like AVP to help promote the room and host specialty tournaments like AVP XVII this Saturday and the AVP Weekly Showdowns. The Strat is a poker room that understands what poker players want and how to treat them. It has a long history and took the displaced Sahara staff under their wing and embrace the customer base that the Sahara had built. Offering great NLHE cash games, limit games, and tournaments daily, the Stratosphere had set itself apart in the medium sized room market and appeals to a wide array of casual and professional players seeking a reasonable structure and big prize pool for a very small buy in.

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  1. nicely done, I didn't realize that they opened as the Stratosphere just in 96. Stupak was a great character, I enjoyed his book. Hope to try out the Strat in March

  2. Great article LVM. It reminded me of one of my first trips to LV around 1993. A bunch of friends and I--all in our early 20s--received an offer to stay at "Bob Stupak's Vegas World." The deal seemed too good to be true, but it was true: For $200 you got two nights in the room, $100 in slot play, and $100 CASH. About 8 of us took the offer and half expected that it was some sort of scam, but it was exactly as they said. As you checked into your room, they gave you $100 in slot tokens and a $100 bill. We had a great time and I even remember one guy in our group won a $400 keno ticket during breakfast. At the time, I thought it made him a millionaire. I remember there was an "outer space" theme in Vegas World casino at the time. There was a space shuttle and an astronaut floating around the ceiling of the place :sleeping: swear this is true, I was not on drugs). Aaaaah, those were the days. We would hit up that end of the strip (Silver City, Slots-of-fun, Frontier, Stardust, etc...) for beers and cheap gambling like $3 blackjack and Red Dog. Such fun. Thanks to Mike for reminding me of my (misspent) youth.

  3. Thanks for another great article, very informative.